Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Taking Stock: Ten years of Stained Glass in Wales 2011–2021

At the turn of the year and the dawn of 2021, it will soon be ten years since the launch of the online Stained Glass in Wales catalogue. The funding received in 2009–10 and 2011 for the Stained Glass in Wales project at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies built on the work of the Imaging the Bible in Wales database (launched 2008), creating a new website that shared material with the previous project, and used the same database infrastructure. Further cataloging work almost enabled me to catch up with the number of windows that I had recorded up to that point, and focussed on material not part of the Imaging the Bible in Wales remit (principally adding more contemporary and medieval stained glass, and filling in non-biblical subjects). However, with the end of that funding in November 2011, and the ongoing fieldwork that I have continued to do since then, there has been an ever growing backlog of material to catalogue on the site. I took stock of this last summer and estimated that there were around 400 buildings in Wales, mainly places of worship, that I had visited and recorded windows at, but whose windows had not been added to the catalogue.

Stained glass window with depictions of the Acts of Mercy.
Good windows by John Hardman & Co, and Charles Powell can be found at Holy Trinity, Llandudno, but who is this south transept window by? It is similar to windows by Charles Clutterbuck in the area, but other makers of the 1850s, such as William Holland. Pilkington’s and Forrest & Bromley, have had little work done of them, and can be difficult recognising work by these firms

This amounts to thousands of windows – some of which are the sole east window of a church while others are one of many at big churches, from Holy Trinity in Llandudno to St Joseph’s Cathedral in Swansea – that await cataloguing and inclusion on the Stained Glass in Wales site. I estimated that it would take about nine-ten months full-time to complete this work, which could get close to doubling the number of windows on the site. I also have much more good information on stained glass in Wales from buildings that I have not visited, gleaned from years of research and from images provided by others, and the addition of this material to the site would begin to make it a fairly comprehensive, if far from complete, listing of stained glass in ecclesiastical contexts in Wales.

Stained Glass window showing the Ascension of Christ.
Windows by Hardman’s and Mayer of Munich can be found at the cathedral, makers whose work is often found in Catholic churches, but the east window of what is now St Joseph’s Cathedral in Swansea appears to be by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, judging by the painterly style

People periodically get in touch wondering why certain churches aren’t included in the catalogue, and sometimes offer to send me images, probably assuming that the addition of windows to the catalogue is a quick and easy process, and that the catalogue is an ongoing funded resource. Sadly neither are true. It is true that to add a very basic record for a window and upload an image or two for it on the database is usually quite a quick process, but in order for windows to be searched and found they need to be embedded in the database with various links enabled. Descriptive and interpretative notes, alongside transcriptions or summaries of inscriptions and texts, make the catalogue more useful for a range of researchers. Subjects and biblical references are indexed and often a degree of research is necessary to ascertain the evidence for the dating and attribution of each window.

There are instances where some very scant listings exist on the catalogue, many of which date back to an initial trawl for artworks from a collection of church guide books and leaflets at the outset of the Imaging the Bible in Wales project in 2005–6, and while they are useful in marking the presence of windows, they aren’t particularly helpful to the researcher.

In a few cases correspondents have made use of my offer to add windows to the database themselves, which is possible using an online form. The form is entered into the database and is checked over and edited as necessary before it appears on the website. It therefore requires administrative time and sometimes the number of emails involved end up using more of my time than if I had added the windows from scratch myself, but it is a good way for others to get involved in the work and have windows added. It has also been a good way for me to learn about the windows at churches that I have not yet visited.

Although I have been developing proposals for expanding and co-ordinating the recording and cataloguing of stained glass into England over the last couple of years, partly by improving and further streamlining the system for user contributions, I remain keen to make many more of the windows that I have recorded in Wales available on the site. The unpublished archive includes work by many artists and makers not yet represented on the site, and more windows by those only represented by one or two windows. In some cases I have revisited churches and now have additional details of windows only illustrated on the site with a single image, and some of the older images on the catalogue were processed using early camera raw conversion software, and are not all that readable by today’s standards – although they might have looked pretty good back in 2007!

Stained glass window of Christ with children.Stained glass window of Christ with children.
Window at St Woolos Cathedral by John Hardman & Co., originally photographed and added to the Imaging the Bible in Wales database in 2006; (right) rephotographed in 2013 and uploaded to the database August 2020
Stained glass window of the Magi.
Detail of a window by A.J. Davies just across the Welsh border in Herefordshire, at Kentchurch

Numerous attempts to fund additions to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue during 2020 met with little success, hardly surprising in a year of unusual challenges. Funders often seem to prefer funding new initiatives rather than providing for additional work on existing resources, but I have been grateful to the Glaziers Trust and the Gibbs Trust for providing some additional funding this year. Time funded by the Gibbs Trust will focus on the addition of windows from Non-conformist places of worship, while funding from the Glaziers Trust enabled the improvement of information concerning windows already listed on the site, as well as additional details concerning artists and makers listed on the site, with improved bibliographic referencing.

Funding from the Glaziers Trust since 2016 has provided for the addition of stained glass from churches that have closed, enabled the functionality to add CVMA numbering of windows, and, in 2020, provided the opportunity to update many hundreds of records on the database. Adding in material gleaned from archival work done over the years, particularly in 2012–13 when seeking out the identity of makers of windows that I considered including in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, was a large part of this work, as well as incorporating new information from relevant publications. I also found that during the process of reviewing many hundreds of records, I was also able to attribute more windows on stylistic grounds, particularly in the case of windows added to the catalogue over ten years ago, when I was less adept at recognising the styles of particular firms. Dozens of old and new articles and books were added to the bibliography, with hundreds of links provided to individual windows on the database.

The next post on this blog will outline some examples of how this archival evidence helps with dating and attributing windows, and the care that needs to be taken with sources.

In addition it is now possible for me to tentatively attribute windows to particular makers or artist, where evidence is not conclusive. This makes it possible for windows to be listed as ‘perhaps’ or ‘probably’ by a studio, giving users of the catalogue the option of including them in lists of windows, and encourages caution in using any particular window for the attribution of another. In time I would like to extend this so that the catalogue provides the basis for the attribution of each window, although this would require further time going though the catalogue and checking exactly how the attributions of over 2500 windows have been arrived at. There have also been a number of other minor improvements to the site and I am grateful to Nigel Callaghan of Technoleg Taliesin for his ongoing support of the technical aspects of the database.

Stained glass window with figures.
East window at Llanwrthwl, 1874. The style looked vaguely familiar to me when I first saw this window in 2011, but after looking carefully at the early windows by Daniel Bell at Lampeter, when writing a book on the windows there in 2016–17, I recently realised that the style of this window matches those quite closely, and it is of the same date. No other work by Daniel Bell, who was working with Richard Almond at the time, has yet been identified in Wales, and I found it very difficult to find more than a couple of windows attributed to him anywhere else. Does that make it rare? Or will better recording prove that it is one of many more?

The Stained Glass in Wales catalogue will always be work in progress. There will always be more windows to find, just as I continue to be surprised by things that I come across for the first time when visiting churches. Windows already on the catalogue could often benefit from fuller descriptions, more detailed subject indexing and additional illustrative details. Furthermore it longs to extend across the border, and link up with the work of other researchers.

What then would this achieve? Many more local communities would find good information online about the stained glass in their places of worship, which could be shared to encourage visitors and enhance the understanding of the artistic significance of these buildings. We would be in a better position to write histories of stained glass artists and studios, being able to see the work of the more prolific in their variety over a period of time and in contrast with other makers. Windows made by little known studios and artists could be found by other researchers across Britain and overseas and used to help stylistic attribution and dating. Charitable bodies allocating funds towards the preservation and conservation of stained glass would be better equipped to make decisions regarding the relative rarity and quality of particular stained glass windows that have been damaged or are at risk.

There is much to do in the next ten years and I hope to find the necessary funding to carry on the work. Donations welcome!

An Arts and Crafts Window by Clayton & Bell?

Over the last few months I have been collaborating on a book about the stained glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter. The initiative for the book came from John Hammond, an expert on stained glass war memorials, and we have written the book together, with publication funded by the church.

Cover of Stained Glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter, with figure by Wilhelmina Geddes.The difference between writing an overview of stained glass in churches and writing a guide that includes all of the windows in the church is that all of the windows need some attention, whether good or bad, and whether or not it is possible to attribute them. In the case of this church, only a few of the windows have signatures, and while the style of some other makers are clear, or have been identified from archives, a handful remained unattributed.

The church does contain a really fine window. The west window is the last monumental work by Wilhelmina Geddes, and the recent biography of the artist by Nicola Gordon Bowe is so detailed that it makes the window perhaps the most comprehensively documented stained glass window in Wales. Since the window contains a figure of the patron of the church, St Peter, it is featured on the cover.

This was the last window added to the church, but the first were windows by Daniel Bell working with Richard Almond in 1870, and also a window that I considered to be by Lavers & Barraud of the same date. Exactly how many of these 1870s windows were also by Daniel Bell (and Richard Almond, with whom he worked until 1875) was uncertain, and given the fact that relatively few windows attributed to Daniel Bell (brother to the better known Alfred Bell) have been published, it has been difficult to make comparisons with other windows by the artist.

Another window that I was particularly keen to attribute was an attractive First World War memorial. The window is more colourful than much contemporary stained glass, and exhibited unusually loose glass painting in a few areas of the background. The window had no makers’ mark that we were able to discern, and we did our best to go through all of the church and diocesan archives that might be able to date or identify the maker of the window. These efforts failed to find even the date of the window, and I thought that I ought to consult a few experts that I knew in case any suggested attributions came to light.

After a couple of conversations by email, I was at least approaching the idea that the window was not the work of an individual artist associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, but was more likely to be by a larger studio, even if it was a livelier window than the usual output of the period. This was then corroborated by a suggestion from Neil Moat that it was the work of John Clement Bell for Clayton & Bell. Given the character of the other windows that I knew of by the firm from around the time of the First World War, this window was something quite different, and unlike anything else that I could find by the firm published online or in print – not that our libraries are full of illustrations of twentieth-century Clayton & Bell windows.

The only other vaguely comparable window by the firm that I knew of was at Beaumaris: a colourful five-light Crucifixion scene. There wasn’t quite the same freshness of colour and painting here, and the painting of the faces was rather different to that in the Lampeter window. However, when I looked at the painting of the angels above, there did seem to be a greater correspondence with the the faces in the Lampeter window. Surely there was a second glass painter at work here in the Beaumaris window (probably more of course).

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of an angel.

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of angels.

Beaumaris window

But the most startling similarity between the two windows was a very tiny detail. Many Clayton & Bell windows, going back well into the nineteenth century, feature little stars that are nonetheless prominent in the design. These two windows also had little stars in the upper parts of the window, and are remarkably similar in execution.

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of stars

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of an angel and stars.

Beaumaris window

Was the principal glass painter of the Lampeter war memorial working at Clayton & Bell’s studio when he or she painted it? Can we identify the influence of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic (a controversial idea, let alone a definable one) in the output of Clayton & Bell in the 1910s or 20s? Are there many more windows by Clayton & Bell of the period that remain unidentified because of their dissimilarity to what we expect their windows to look like?

The answers to such questions are known by the very few people who have in-depth knowledge of British twentieth-century ecclesiastical stained glass. And it is with sadness that I have to record that in the time since I corresponded with Neil Moat he died suddenly, so now there is now one fewer.